Ron's Gone Wrong

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: A fun meta comedy on childhood in the age of apps, with an excellent central character in Ron.




Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Big Hero 6, The Mitchells Vs The Machines, Ron's Gone Wrong... there's a bit of theme emerging amongst the stories that adults are telling about kids, to kids, these days. I think it's fairly telling that as more millennials enter the creative industry, the big villains are increasingly tech corporations and social media. Which isn't to say that I dislike this trend – far from it, I think these are important ideas that need to be talked about, especially with kids. But I'm personally more interested in seeing what Gen Z and those that come after them see as the big threats to society. I think tech will still feature, but I wonder how much greater, more existential threats like climate change or fascism will take centre stage.

At any rate, Ron's Gone Wrong doesn't quite live up to the heights of the other films mentioned above, but it misses that mark by a fraction and, in many ways, I think gets the messaging around technology, social media, and youth culture much more refined than any of its predecessors. These aren't kids (or adults) brainwashed into behaving a certain way, or fundamentally cut off from society by technology, or battling a big corporation with world domination and supervillainy in mind. The film doesn't pull any punches about the evils of capitalism, but it balances this with an actually likeable Zuckerberg-esque figure (Zuck-like in backstory, not in personality or morality, to be clear) who is genuinely trying to help kids just find, and have, friends. It's a clever critique about how you can't roadmap or audience test your way to fun or community; those things are emergent properties that are hard to predict and even harder to control. Nor do those ethical goals sit well with a techno-corporate world where profits and engagement are king.

And the kids aren't mindless drones, like in so many other tech parables of the modern age. They're inquisitive, imaginative people doing what kids always do: trying to be grown up. They're playing at how they think the world works, and in doing so have internalised a broken, face-value version of that world that leaves them cold and alone. Forget social media, that's what kids have been doing forever, it's just now it's way easier to get completely absorbed by it.

The result is a narrative that feels much more nuanced and compelling than a lot of similar stories, but one which is then let down a little by the generic E.T. style caper thrown on top. I don't actually overly mind that this is the direction the movie went and, in fact, think it provides our core characters the right avenues in which to develop, learn, and grow. It just also feels a little done-before, which is a shame when the background ideas are so much more nuanced and subtle than anything I've personally come across in this space.

Plot aside, the characters and world they build is a loveable one, with excellent animation, some brilliant humour, and plenty of heart. I'm still not sure how I feel about the ultimate ending, though it does seem to work out quite well for everyone involved, and perhaps there's a bigger picture moral I'm missing about letting go of true success for others to benefit as well. Wait, is this all just a love letter to open source? Maybe 🤷‍♂️

Where it really triumphs, though, is placing kids at the heart of both the story and the solutions, really giving us their view on the world, and allowing them the space to fix themselves. Rather than Ron being the one doing all the teaching (a la Big Hero 6's robot), here the kids are teaching Ron, and in doing so open their own eyes. And so we get a story that doesn't always nail the pacing, but does have an important message and delivers it well. That it does so whilst being charming, funny, and entertaining, makes this a film I'd happily watch again in the future... I'm just not sure I'll ever really need to.

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